The topics of public discussion “How to guarantee a stable election process and voting rights in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts”, held on 30 November in Kyiv, were the following: determination of clear criteria for impossibility of holding an election, the lack of information campaign concerning a change of voting location without changing of an election address, and the need to harmonize electoral legislation.

Civil Network OPORA presented an overview of a legislative framework and experience in holding national and local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Members of the CEC, representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast state administrations and local self-government bodies, representative of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC), NGO experts, and employees of diplomatic missions, which represent countries that support electoral reform and decentralization in Ukraine, have participated in the event.

There are still issues remain:

- properly organized coordination between state authorities, election commissions, and law-enforcement bodies, guaranteeing prompt response to s and other challenges during elections;

- wide-scale information campaign concerning a temporary change of voting location without changing of an election address for internally displaced persons and other internally mobile group of citizens (for example, migrant workers, servicemen) on a national election, as well as increasing the number of employees at State Voter Register maintenance bodies to avoid excessive load on personnel;

- holding parliamentary elections in single-member districts, which territories are administered by occupation regime, or are within operational area, especially if Ukrainian Parliament fails to change the election system and Russia continues occupation of Ukrainian territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts;

- a need to improve the procedure for appointment of local elections and ascertaining of the impossibility to hold elections to local self-government bodies.

According to Electoral and Parliamentary Programs Coordinator of Civil Network OPORA Olha Aivazovska, this is a time when it's necessary to take the certain decisions, or to understand the arrangement of these decisions in the view of different elections.

“Today, in the end of 2018, there are some expectations that this uncertainty, when we don't know today which territories will be stable tomorrow to talk about election administration, safety and cooperation, will be no longer present. Nevertheless, we believe there is still a problem of uncertainty in legal, safety and political matters. In particular, amendments to the Law on Elections of the President of Ukraine, which were recorded in transitional regulations, are no longer relevant for 2019. Besides that, it is not always clear whether there is a political will to guarantee electoral rights of internally displaced persons in Ukraine and other internally mobile groups of citizens. Taking into consideration that the election process is about to start, we believe it's necessary to urgently harmonize electoral legislation and safety procedures for these territories, as well as voting procedures for servicemen, internally displaced persons etc.,” – she stated.

Olha Aivazovska has also emphasized that it's important to come back to the certain practices of 2014-2015, when, for example, coordination centers were organized on the basis of NSDCs, which responded promptly to any incidents: district election commissions under attacks, kidnapping of election commission members, impossibility to handover ballot papers, and to conduct the voting itself. А парламент вносив певні зміни до законодавства. Besides that, she said, it's important to remember about informational support of elections and raising voter awareness.

According to USAID Mission Director to Ukraine Susan Fritz, legal and stable election processes in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts will be decisive for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“All the stakeholders should also guarantee the inclusiveness and openness of future elections for every citizen, including internally displaced persons and citizens of Donetsk, Luhansk oblasts and Crimea. Judging from this week's events, there is no certainty in whether Ukrainians, who live in newly-formed communities, will be able to elect their representatives. Therefore, it's vitally important that the CEC and other state bodies urgently clarify legal terms for holding or not holding these elections. Thus, coordination between the central and local election commissions, law enforcement bodes, independent observers and civil society is very important,” – she emphasized.

Deputy Head of the Central Election Commission Yevhen Radchenko believes that there is a much bigger problem for election administration, particularly inadequate regulation of procurement.

“Internally displaced persons, migrant workers, and other categories of citizens – is only a small part of the problem. We will face a big problem when the Central Election Commission will not be able to hold an election due to the absence of legislative regulations. For example, if we don't change the legislation on procurement, the CEC will not be able to, for example, to print ballot papers and guarantee their transportation. As you can see, there are still many issues, which hazard the election administration,” – he said.

According to Secretary of the CEC Nataliia Bernatska, the Commission have already faced many challenges over a little bit than one month of its work.

“We have accomplished a very important task - appointed the elections in united territorial communities, received vague court decisions and faced acute disputes in the CEC itself after the appointment. Moreover, the martial law caused even more problems related to the prohibition of elections on the territories subject the it. Now we see many gaps in the legislation when trying to understand how to stop the election process, which has already started on these territories. There are other problems, which are topical today, – Russian aggression grows, and the situation is not getting easier. On the one hand, we are getting ready to cyber threats and other problems, which may emerge in administration and conduct of the upcoming elections. On the other hand, we are looking forward to get the necessary amendments, especially draft laws #6240 and #8270,” – she said.

Member of the CEC Mykhailo Verbenskyi, who is responsible for coordination of CEC's cooperation with law-enforcement bodies and supervision of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, emphasized that the Commission has prepared a draft Memorandum with MIA of Ukraine concerning a cooperation aimed to guarantee public order and human rights during the election process throughout the country, including Donbas.

“Of course, law-enforcement on those territories will demand more efforts and means, as well as special approaches to the tasks, which are easily realized in other regions. Besides that, the delivery and guard of ballot papers is going to be quite specific. Law-enforcement bodies should also pay extra attention to the safety of election commission members on these territories. Thus, since the Memorandum is signed, we will try to raise all these questions to get a clear explanation from the Ministry of Defense, – how will we guarantee the public order and safety on these territories,” – he emphasized.

State expert of the Apparatus of National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Maksym Palamarchuk said the NSDC doesn't have legal authority to participate in verification of safety situation.

“However, if the legislative branch takes the corresponding decision, we, like all citizens of Ukraine and especially civil servants, will have to follow the law. As for the expediency of such verification, I as an expert have to say that the law on temporarily occupied territories was adopted, which commissions the safety situation to Joint Forces Commander. On the one hand, he is in charge of the operation, and on the other hand, he has operative data and a possibility to guarantee the safety or ascertain that it's impossible,” – he emphasized.

According to Head of the Board of the Donetsk Institute of Information NGO Oleksii Matsuka, the explanation of election procedures through the media is not efficient.

“It is important to understand that the people who live on these territories do not really trust the media as institutions, which implement the certain procedures. This is happening because of hazards from information and misinformation campaigns organized by the RF and, strictly speaking, by some Ukrainian politicians, who aim to separate the voters on those territories from national discussions and agenda. Thus, the main task for the media and state authorities, both on presidential elections and any other processes, is to explain the people existing procedures, which are available for Ukrainian citizens on any territory of Ukraine, including territories that are not controlled by Ukrainian state,” – he emphasized.

Civil Network OPORA's Analyst Oleksandr Kliuzhev believes the key problem in disputes around elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts is that barely anyone at the central level is ready to dive into details.

“If we are not ready to learn about details, living conditions, territories and administrative bodies, than we are on the way to discrimination – this is what I believe in. Therefore, this event is aimed to give the understanding of discussion topic and prepare to the problems which may occur. We recommended the CEC to analyze possible hazards for organization of national presidential and parliamentary elections, and if it's not realized the voters will not trust the future decisions. For example, it is very difficult to explain the people on the first local elections why it's impossible to organize elections in 5 kilometers to the border of Dnipropetrovsk oblast, and possible in another 5 kilometers, while the people live the same way and reality,” – stated the expert.

There was also a dispute concerning the fact that the CEC haven't appointed elections in UTCs of Luhansk oblast since 2015.

Supplemented recommendations from participants and full text of public discussion “How to guarantee a stable election process and voting rights in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” will be soon available on website of Civil Network OPORA.

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